16 Sep 2014

US congressman: ‘We rely on Britain like no other country’

“I can’t find a voice in America, with the possible exception of Mel Gibson, who thinks that it would be good for the US to see a dis-united Kingdom.”

So says Congressman Brad Sherman, a senior member of the house committee on foreign affairs, who feels so strongly about the repercussions of the Scottish referendum result, he last month introduced a resolution to congress expressing support for a united, secure and prosperous United Kingdom.

The official line is that the US regards the Scottish independence referendum as an internal UK matter, but when it comes to opinions, it’s clear where Washington sits.

The White House weighed in carefully on Monday on the Scottish independence referendum,  saying Washington would respect the outcome of the vote but would prefer the United Kingdom to remain “strong, robust and united.”

The prospect of an independent Scotland even inspired a rare moment of consensus between the president, and his former secretary of state (and potential successor) Hillary Clinton. In June they separately expressed a preference for a united UK.  President Obama, at a press conference with his British counterpart, David Cameron, declared the US deeply interested in ensuring Britain remained a “strong, robust, united and effective partner”.

For the US, it’s all about ensuring that the country with which it enjoys a “special relationship” stays as strong and reliable as possible.  In the Capitol Hill narrative, an independent Scotland becomes an outrider in diplomatic affairs, and introduces dangerous confusion into the relationship with Westminster.

First and foremost, commentators have asked, what happens to the Trident nuclear programme if Alex Salmond prevails and kicks the programme out of its base on the west coast? Remember, Trident missiles and the submarines that carry them are leased by the UK from the US. They allow the UK to provide, together with the US, Nato’s nuclear umbrella. The Democrat congressman from California, Brad Sherman, is concerned (see interview below).

“I don’t imagine that there are a whole lot of English or Welsh cities saying ‘move it here’, so I think that would be less effective.

“But we work with British military units, British naval units, we share intelligence with British intelligence and cyber units, and that relationship is more important than any we have with any other defence establishment, and disestablishing an establishment makes it less effective.

“We rely on Britain like we rely on no other country. There is a western alliance. It has to confront Putin. It has to deal with terrorism. We have to respond to natural disasters around the world, and the United Kingdom is the most important ally in all of that effort.

“And I think it’s clear from both the president and his statements, but everybody I’ve talked to at our Pentagon, our intelligence agencies, that this would weaken the ability of the people of the British Isles to help the western world achieve its objectives.”

When I asked Brad Sherman whether that means Britain becomes a less reliable ally for the US, he answered: “I think a less effective ally.”

While there’s been a marked absence of commentary or discussion on Scotland beyond the beltway, USA Today, in its editorial pages, ran a column supporting a vote for independence. The arguments ran that independence for any country ought to appeal to Americans, that small countries do better than larger ones, and that Scotland generally has all the elements necessary to become a successful European country.

Jon Stewart – of the Daily Show on the Comedy Channel – has indulged in some banter under the banner “deMacalypse 2014” (“If you lose Scotland, you’re down to the one corner of Ireland that doesn’t hate you, and Wales, a territory with so few natural resources, it needs to import vowels”).

Otherwise, the view seems to be that the US should stand well back, any American intervention judged most likely to bolster nationalist fervour ahead of the poll.

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